Anatomy of a Story Premise

I promised to share the premise of my Nanowrimo novel, so here goes. For a long time, I’ve been fascinated by a phenomenon known as “Steve Blass Disease” or “Steve Sax Syndrome.” This strange malady has afflicted elite professional baseball players. It is defined as a player’s sudden, inexplicable inability to make an accurate throw. I first encountered this phenomenon when it happened to Steve Blass, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Although I’m not a Pirates fan, I followed Blass’s career because he grew up in my native state of Connecticut.

Blass was a very good pitcher, but he reached a new level when he won two pressure-packed games in the 1971 World Series as the Pirates overcame a three-games-to-one deficit to shock the Baltimore Orioles and win the world championship. In 1972, Blass had his best year ever, with 19 wins. In 1973, it all fell apart for him. He could not throw the ball over the plate for strikes. That season he walked 84 batters in 88 innings. By comparison, the previous season he walked 98 batters in 239 innings. He gave up an average of nearly 10 runs per nine innings.

He tried everything. Doctors examined his arm. An optometrist examined his eyes. He tried psychotherapy, hypnosis, and even Transcendental Meditation. Nothing worked for him. Two years later, Blass retired from baseball at the age of 32. He went on to become a broadcaster for the Pirates. He never found out the cause of his throwing problems.

There are numerous other examples. Steve Sax was an All-Star second baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers before he lost his ability to make the short throw to first base. Sax is one of the few who recovered and went to lead the American League in fielding percentage in 1989. Other players who suffered from this syndrome included Chuck Knoblauch (an All-Star with the Minnesota Twins and the New York Yankees), Mackey Sasser, Mark Wohlers, Dontrelle Willis, and Rick Ankiel. An excellent all-around athlete, Ankiel converted from a pitcher to an outfielder while with the St. Louis Cardinals. He now plays for the Washington Nationals.

I’ve always wanted to build a novel around a character who suffered from Steve Blass Disease. About ten years ago, I started playing around with a plot in my head. I went through a number of possible story lines. I decided the character’s throwing woes would  be triggered by a murder, specifically the murder of his closest friend and teammate. So then I had to figure out what events might have precipitated the murder. There had to be a girlfriend involved. There would be an argument. There would have to be other suspects–the kind of “red herrings” mystery writers use so well.

So here’s the premise: Rick Walsh and Angel Velasquez are bonus babies signed to big league contracts with the Boston Red Sox. One night, while the two are playing for the Red Sox’ triple A farm club, Walsh, a pitcher, returns to their apartment to find Velasquez dead from a gunshot wound to the head. The gun was found in Angel’s hand, but Rick refused to believe it was a suicide. The case was never solved. Traumatized by the killing, Walsh lost his ability to throw the ball over the plate and it ruined his career. He developed a speciality as a consultant working with troubled young pitchers, having been through this ordeal himself. Twenty years later, he is summoned to assist a pitcher, who leads him back to the murder case and the prime suspect.

This story is totally outside my genre but I am having so much fun with it. That’s the beauty of Nanowrimo.

Have you ever written anything outside your genre? How did you like it?

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